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Face of Buddha on the Rock (Update)

My last post Face of Buddha reached far beyond my regular audience. It has fascinated people all over. I was counting happiness on my blog, it's the moment we bloggers dream to see. The story has done magic to my blog, it was as if the story was long waiting to be told. But more than what the story did to my blog, this time I pride in what my blog has done to the story. I was seeking attention for what seemed like an ignored Face of Buddha but it turned out that the people have never heard about it, not even the oldest of people here. It was as if they waited for this moment, now people are all over the place.
Face of Buddha
Before it went viral I accompanied group of my colleagues to complete what was left half done, to go up close to the face of Buddha. The path leading to the site was worn, it was walked by thousands across the generations. How the gigantic natural art piece never caught generations of eyes remains a mystery. Standing right before the overwhelming rock, it's hard to make out the face distinctly. The eyes, the cheek, the nose, the lips and the chin that look perfect from across the river are just natural fault lines on the almost flat rock face. This confirms that there is no human manipulation at all. The compelling image of Buddha's face is a natural composition of fault lines, their shadows, and the color texture. The rock is almost two dimensional but from a distance it three dimensional. It's magical.  
Close Up
It was on Sunday I posted the story and by Monday I started receiving pictures from people who went there to see for themselves. By Wednesday the site was crowded with people, and that evening authorities decided to put fence around it. Today when I went there I could see long queue of people across the river, and many breaking through the fence already. On the other side of the river cars and people are causing traffic jam on the national highway. This is more than the attention one can ever ask for.

From the View Point
Long Queue of People 
Some people jokingly call me Terton PaSsu Lingpa and I funnily wish but like I shared in the last post, I wasn't the one to see it first. My friend Yam Rinzin show me a picture from his phone a few months ago. Today he told me that he was told by his lady colleague Tshering Yangzom, who seemed to have seen it through her window, which was facing the hill. That makes her the tertonma. 

I humbly accept the credit of making it public. It gives me great pleasure to see overwhelming number of people gathering around there and wondering how on earth it happened. Number of people will increase by the day, and in seeing the compelling image on the rock, good thought will be evoked in their minds and prayers on their lips. Perhaps this is my parting gift to the place where I lived for seven defining years of my life.   
Visitors (Even a Mobile Bakery has reached there!)

 

Face of Buddha

It's my seventh year in Wangdue and I have lived it well. I have considered it my home. I have explored so many corners of this place and wrote so many stories. There are places I should have been to but I have no regrets because I haven't spared the ones around me.

However, after all these years, and all these stories I wasn't ready to accept that I had missed on a very special landmark. It was right there for anybody to see, large and distinct and unbelievably very close. It's an image of Lord Buddha's face formed out of natural rock, not even carved. I don't understand how this has not become a sacred place, when people are ready to accept a hole on the rock as Khandrum's buga or Guru's footprint.

The Buddha Face rock is located on the elephant shaped hill on which the Wangdue Dzong is built. The face is distinctly visible from across the river, anywhere between the Wangdue Bridge and the Damchen Fuel Pump.
The location of Buddha Face (Not exact but somewhere very close) 
 The special rock could be an amazing geographical accident, but accidentally it could have looked like anything else but Buddha's Face. There are lots of rock we worship that are naturally intriguing and there are other man made places that are equally overwhelming. I have been very selective in appreciating those places but when I saw this rock I could not believe it. It's so authentic. It can't for for nothing.
You don't even have to believe to see it!
I don't know how it looks close up because I haven't been right there though it's accessible by foot, the foot paths are running all around it. But from across the river it's nothing less than the calm face of Buddha. I don't understand how this place is not recognized as one of the holy Buddhist sites, though some people already knew about it. I went to verify after I saw a picture in my friend Yam Rinzi's mobile. Only after seeing it for myself, and getting convinced beyond all doubt I dared to blog about it.

Disclaimer: I am NOT the first person to see it.
 

Bhutanese Mask Collector

Forgive my ignorance but I have never heard of any Bhutanese Mask Collector, or for that matter any sort of collector. We consider that as the prerogative of foreigners. I have rather heard of Bhutanese smugglers who buy antique mask to be sold in black market across the border, never to be seen by any Bhutanese ever. I have also heard of foreigners who collect mask, antiques and ingenious art pieces and fly them away from Bhutan. Many of us are more than happy to see our priceless art pieces fly away overseas.
Believe it or not, there is a Bhutanese who is doing his share of collection. He won't let us sell all our arts to the foreigners. His name is Kelden Jigme Namgay (Call him KJ). You won't believe he is just a two year old if you see his mask collection. This afternoon I went to meet him and with the approval of his parents and grandmother took pictures of him and his collection.  
KJ with his collection
He is not only the youngest mask collector but also perhaps the only collector in Bhutan. He is just an ordinary little boy who is born among the kids who love wearing Spiderman and Batman mask but quite strangely KJ started asking for scary Bhutanese masks ever since he could demand for toys. Sometimes he would ask for a specific mask and his parents have to scan all the handicraft shops. His collection is built mask by mask, from Paro, Thimphu and Bumthang. He knows the masks by their names and can even locate where each of them are bought from.
The Collector. Photo Source: His Parent's Collection
It was this summer that his parents could finally make him happy after finding the last missing piece in his collection: The Dudhar Mask, the white mask worn in the dance of death. They couldn't find it in any of the handicraft shops. It was finally found in Paro Airport handicraft shop. He almost rescued it.

The Last Mask: Photo Source: His Parent's Collection
It's hard to say if KJ was born with that interest or he acquired it later but one thing that we must acknowledge is the way people around him nurtured his unique passion. Children of his age are after Ben10, Chota Bhim, Spierman, etc but remember no child is born with love for cartoon films, it's the lazy parents who let such movies babysit their children and overtime they tend to like it. We force children to like cartoon movies but KJ's parents and grandma didn't let that happen. They let him be different.

KJ lives with his parents and Grandma in Punakha.
Enjoy his collection:

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Our Cup of Pesticide?

I love tea, I love it best without milk because milk spoils the true color and aroma of the tea. I prefer slipping it from a transparent cup because seeing the color makes it more tastier. I had all the reason to believe that I was drinking the healthiest drink until I read a Kuensel report on how imported tea could contain pesticides. 
My Cup of Pesticide (?)
Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is soon going  to conduct tests on all tea brands coming to Bhutan, which is not very late yet. Despite worrying if we have the technology and capacity to undertake the test I am very hopeful that lives will be saved across generations. Going by the Green Peace India's report as given in that Kuensel article, pesticide residues were found in all 49 brands tested, of which 29 brands contained mix of more than 10 pesticides. Out of the 34 different types of pesticides found in different tea brands, 68 percents are not approved to be used in tea cultivation at all. 
Then are the tea brands coming to Bhutan among those 49 tested? Perhaps all of them are, which means we were consuming pesticides all our lives. If it were vegetables or fruits, which definitely contain high deposits of chemicals from pesticides, we could partly wash them before consuming but how can we wash tea? Therefore we could be sipping huge amount of toxic chemicals from tea than anything else.
That perhaps answers why cancer has become a common disease in Bhutan? It's increasingly becoming common for people who never smoked or drank to die of cancer and we silently take it as a disease of fate. If we do a serious research on the cancer patients, we might reach the conclusion that they were heavy consumers of tea. I have seen so many deaths in my Dzongkhag Haa caused by cancer, while there could be several other chances but more than anything we Haaps are tea addicts. Just in one sitting one Haap would drink more than a regular family could drink in whole day. Tea begins the day and tea ends it. Imagine the amount of pesticide they are consuming. 

I have always been a proud black tea drinker but now I feel like I was drinking the most refined cup of pesticide all this time. While it's early to conclude before BAFRA completes their test, I think there is no surprise left given the results in Green Peace India's compilation. Therefore, it's time to ask, is it safe to drink as much tea as beer? 
Tea Plantation in Assam
Southern Hills of Bhutan are most ideal for tea cultivation considering the popularity of Darjeeling tea but god knows why we never made an attempt to grow our own tea!
 

Breaking the Shoemaker's Curse

In 1920s Germany, there lived two young brothers, Adi Dassler and Rudi Dassler, whose father worked in a shoe factory and mother ran a small laundry business. The brothers went to the shoe factory with their father, and later began making their own shoes in their mother laundry room. They began 'Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory', which prospered.
Turning point was in 1936, then Adi drove all the way to Olympic village with a suitcase full of their shoes, and made an African American sprinter wear their shoes. The sprinter went on to win four gold medals and that made their shoes shined best in the sport world. Then World War II set in and the brothers were divided. They became rivals.
Rudi started his own firm and called it Ruda (Rudi Dassler), which was later re-branded as Puma, and Adi stared his own firm and named it Adidas (Adi Dassler). This is the story of two greatest shoes makers- Adidas and Puma.

My interest in the German brother began in 2011 when Dawa Drakpa started ShoeVival, a shoe laundry, the first of its kind dared by a Bhutanese. His parents had sent him to get a degree in BSc Nursing from Bangalore, but to their disappointment he returned from Mumbai with a shoe laundry franchise, and without the degree. Unimaginable, but that's the strangeness of destiny.

In a society that has chronic traditional hierarchical ego, where mending shoes was always associated with expat cobbler families, a young Bhutanese university student proudly establishing a brand was a history in itself. He broker the curse. Overnight he turned what was earlier perceived as 'dirty job' into a sexy profession. He made a strong statement, and most importantly he lived the example well.
Bhutan Dragon Motorcycle Club
How much adventure can one have in a shoe laundry business? Wait until Dawa Drakpa rode with Bhutan Dragon Motorcycle Club on their gorgeous Royal Enfield monsters to 'Help Shoe Bhutan'. His laundry collected, refurbish and loaded 5996 pairs of shoes on the back of a DCM truck that followed the bikers across the country. They distributed shoes and collected smiles from so many corners of the country, they reached some places where no shoe has reached and touched some feet that were never touched by shoes.

After 5996 shoes, perhaps it dawn on him that if he gave man a shoe, it ends with that shoe, but if he taught man how to mend his shoes then it will last across all the shoes the man and his neighbors will ever have in their lives. This is the beginning of another adventure for the shoe man.

Help Shoe Bhutan trip to Gasa
He is now on a long journey to saw his seeds across the country. As I write this story, he must be somewhere in Bumthang teaching school students his trade. He is now setting up Help Shoe Clubs in fifteen school across the country. The journey began in Dashidingkha MSS in Punakha where the club is set up and students were given thousands worth of tools and million worth of skill and inspiration. The man his travelling east and he is going to inspire many Dawa Drakpas on his way, and perhaps a few Dassler brothers.

These are the schools in the first phase list: Dashiding MSS, Sherubling HSS, Jakar HSS, Yadi HSS, Phayum HSS, Tashigang MSS, Rangjung HSS, Baylling HSS, Samdrupjongkar MSS, Sonamthang MSS, Damphu HSS, Sarpang HSS, Dagana HSS, Nangkhor HSS & Nanglam HSS. 
Help Shoe Club in Trongsa Shrubling hereby certified!
One day there will be a time where every Dzongkhag will have a Bhutanese professional cobbler who is proud of his job, and one day the expat cobblers who lived in Bhutan for over three generations will close shop and say, "Saaaala, Now Bhutan has changed", and that day you know whom to remember.
Pride of my generation.
I am proud to be born in the crazy generation with people like Karma Yonten, Farmer Sangay and Dawa Drakpa. The thrash man, the Farmer, and the shoe man.
 

Democracy and Love Marriage

When I was invited to speak to Democracy Club by their club master Ms. Sangay Lhaden I was sure that the members would want to listen to anything but democracy. They have been listening to so much about it that any more theory would make them want to leave the club.
With Drukyul Decides I- Photo by Sangay Lhaden
I began by introducing the three signed books they received as gift from the author, Gyambo Sithey. The books are about everybody, everything, everywhere minus the rumors about the first two elections and the five defining years between them. If schools are seriously meaning to make differences through democracy club then they should consider investing in the books. I have shared this with Election Commission of Bhutan and perhaps the schools might receive it for free. Fingers crossed.

I was done with the books and now had to say something about the subject they have already heard too much, to many times. The following is the organized and edited version of my original random talk.

Democracy is like marriage, love marriage to be specific, you choose you own leader, I mean spouse. The courting and dating is the campaign period and finally you cast your vote one day without anyone's influence. The 100 days pledges go well in marriage but after a year you begin to see that the mole on her cheek is too big, that his snoring is very disturbing, that her nagging is not cute and then there will be nights you sleep angry, mornings you wake up sad and there are hundred little things you fight about, forgetting that you chose that person from among 7 billion people on earth.

But then one morning you say sorry and you love again, laugh again and everything works perfect. That's human. That's how real relationship works. You can't go on smiling when you are slapped, you can't forgive when he comes home late every night, you can't be and shouldn't be obsessively in love at all times because it's not Bollywood movie.

But you also don't hate your wife permanently for scolding you, you have to love her when things settle down and when she gives you that smile. You don't hate your husband forever for forgetting to wish your on your birthday, you have to love him when he takes out a surprise gift. You have to be human or you will be divorced. And in divorce both lose. Family fails.

That's how democracy has to be. You can't religiously support one party or oppose another at all times. Good decisions and bad decisions are made- success of democracy depends on how we react to that.And our reactions depend on which group we are in among the three: The Lovers, The Haters, and The Concerned Citizens.

The Lovers are the ones who swear by one party, and regardless of how good or bad the decision the party makes they will not move an inch into disagreement. They are like a obsessive husband who could go and hug his wife after she has thrown a hot pan on his face.

 Contrary to that The Haters are the ones who turn blind eyes to all the good things a party does and suddenly becomes so loud when they see a flaw. They are like an angry husband who would slap his wife even when she gifts him a bouquet of flowers.
My Illustration of Democracy
If we have more of these two groups of people then democracy is at risk. They could fail a country. Therefore we must strive to be and saw the seed of The Concerned Citizens in our youth. Educating and inspiring them to grow the heart that is courteous enough to acknowledge the good even if it's done by an enemy, and courageous enough to condemn even when the wrongdoer is a friend. That like a very human and loving husband.

The only difference between marriage and democracy is that in democracy you go to poll every five years and change the government if you don't like it...

 

Audience With His Majesty

My greatest dream in life, like any Bhutanese dream, is to stand in front of my king someday with the guiltless satisfaction of having done my job well. For that I have been working every day in preparation, honing my skills, molding my attitude and defining my dreams. But I never thought I would be so lucky to blessed right here in the beginning of my journey. I was greatly honored and humbled to be granted a personal audience with His Majesty the King yesterday, August 10, 2014. This day shall inspire me in seeking meaning in my living, and I thank all the people who wished me well to see this day.

I had a sleepless night of countless thoughts, I was struggling for words to describe that powerful emotion within me, it's like having won the Nobel prize. I was recollecting every word His Majesty said to me during the overwhelming two hours I spent at the Lingkana Palace. It gave me goosebumps remembering how much His Majesty knew about his ordinary subjects like me. It's so heartwarming to realize that the king is watching everyone of us everyday, he cares about our efforts. He knows who is doing what, no matter where in the world we are. He understands our ordinariness, and therefore the royal expectation of us is nothing extraordinary. He wants us to do the best that is ordinarily possible of us. Because so much is possible.

His Majesty's expectation of his people reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.'s words,
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

His Majesty expressed his regard for my humble efforts, and reminded me of the long way that lies ahead of me. His Majesty wishes to see consistency, dedication and humility in what I do. His Majesty gave his blessings on my blogging passion and inspired me to be socially active and responsible citizen. He advised me to remain locally useful and globally relevant at all times.

The joy and fear of carrying the king's earnest words weigh equally and heavily on my soul, and I am going to put every piece of myself and every piece of this life to thank His Majesty in action. There is so much to do, and long way to go before I truly deserve the royal audience I was granted.
With His Majesty, 2009 Convocation 
 

First Dzong in Haa

Let alone the rest of the country even most Haaps won't know that we had Dumcho Dzong in Haa before Wangchuklo Dzong. The present Dzong was built in 1913 by Gongzim Ugyen Dorji after Dumcho Dzong was destroyed by fire that year. Dumcho Dzong was located somewhere near Lhakhang Karpo in Dumcho, about a kilometer away from the present dzong.
Except for the ruin of the foundation, there is no trace of Dumcho Dzong, which was once a power house of the region. One record suggest that Dumcho Dzong was built in 1895 after the establishment of post of Haa Drungpa but going by the only picture I ever saw of Dumcho Dzong taken in 1905, it has to be way older than recorded.
Gongzim Ugyen Dorji posing in front of Dumcho Dzong (1905)
The picture taken by John Claude White in 1905 is the only visual evidence of how the disappeared piece of history looked like in its glorious days. Eight years later, 1913 the Dzong was heavily damaged by the fire and instead of reconstructing it a new Dzong was constructed at a new location- Wangchuklo Dzong.

Every time I see an old picture of our past I thank John Claude White, it was this man who left us priceless treasure trove of our history. He was a close friend of our first king Ugyen Wangchuk who was then the Trongsa Penlop, and I say the friendship was evident in the amount of time and films White invested in shooting every aspect of Bhutan in the early days. I am now on the mission to get a copy of John Claude White's book "Sikhim & Bhutan: Twenty-One Years on the North-East Frontier, 1887-1908" hoping there will be more pictures of our past than the dozens I could get on internet.

Wangchulo Dzong
Today I am sent on a long history trip by the inspiring historian Tshering Tashi. He posted the picture of Dumcho Dzong that took me on a nostalgic journey back in time. This is not the first time Tshering Tashi has inspired me, there were many moments where he would post a piece of historic record and I will be lost in time. Today after I saw the picture, which was the first ever picture I saw of the Dzong, I went on internet hoping to find more of it. But turned out that it's so rare that it's not even included in the huge collections of White's pictures. But on my way I found so many pictures I have never seen before. I even called my mother to confirm about the location of the Dzong before I illustrated the following map. Thank you Au Tshering Tashi, you inspire me, you make history exciting, and you make me believe.

Illustration of Location of Dumcho Dzong and Wangchuklo Dzong
 

People Who Should Not Drink

I told you Bajothang has over hundred places to drink. In these hundred places how many people must be drinking every night. I go out with Kezang and our close friends often and saw different people drinking different drinks differently in different places. Because I drink very little and manage to remain very composed I land up watching dramas of drunk people.

It's shocking to discover that Bhutanese are gifted drinkers, almost everybody can drink anything. Everybody talks in English. One day English will become official drunk language. I hate the kindness in the bar, everybody wants to get you drunk. If you drag that person and ask him to buy a dinner he might run away. That sort of kindness.

Anyway, today is Tuesday and I hope some of you didn't drink so let me present to you some of my findings and analysis after witnessing the endless drunk drama for the last many years. I have shortlist 12 groups of people who should not drink and justified why. Please check if you should fall in one or more groups listed below and reconsider you drinking habit. Of course if you are already drunk you won't care which group you are in.

Be kind to yourself and Don't Drink...
  1. If you are under 18, that's the only legal restriction against drinking, at least respect that. 
  2. If you are sick and doctor has advised you against drinking. Don't waste national healthcare resources if you are purposely ruining your health.
  3. If you are a tanker. Because you will regret the bill next morning, that is if you have paid. Again that liver inside you is not as greedy as you.
  4. If you lose consciousness, because anything could happen to you. You don't want to wake up naked in a stranger's home.
  5. If you sleep in the drain, because you will feel very cold in the morning. If it rains then you may drown, and become the first man in Bhutan to drown in a foot deep drain. Try setting better records.
  6. If you become aggressive and pick up fights with everybody who looks at you, because you don't want to be beaten like a snake and still wake up in prison. That's little ok compared to all the strength you showed on kicking stray dogs, and asking them to fight you back. And worse even, when you start punching window panes and car windows- you don't want to wake up to thousands of Ngultrum damage bill.
  7. If you become emotional, because you will cry and make people listen to your endless bollywood story and in between you will land up leaking all your dirty secrets and next day you will see that you have ruined some relationships. 
  8. If you become Bill Gates after two shots. It's called Asha Passa in Dzongkha. You become the center of attention for being everybody's sponsor and you know what will happen after reaching home. You only feel like Bill Gates but you know you are not Bill Gates. 
  9. If you are going through a problem in life, because you already have a problem why do you need more? (Contributed by Kelzang Dawa)
  10. If you suffer from hangover the next morning because that makes you the dumb ass who pays to get sick.
  11. If you are driving, because if you die your family will not get insurance. They will only get your bloody body in pieces. At least die with honour and leave behind something. 
  12. If you are a parent, because no kid will give a damn about what a drunkard parent says. 
  13. If you are married, because divorce is already rampant, you don't have to contribute.
  14. If you can't pay the bill. Do I have to say anything about this? At least earn something in life before you settle on drinking. You don't want to look like one of those beggars who gets sworn by everyone. Remember your parents' money is not yours, so don't waste their money on your drinking.
I hope it didn't offend anybody, in case it did offend you please stop drinking. Coming back to myself, I am over 18, I am not sick, I am not a tanker, I don't lose consciousness, I don't sleep in drain, I am not aggressive or emotional, of course I get romantic with my wife, and I pay my bill, therefore I sometimes feel I can drink but then I realized that I am married and I have children and I owe them respect. I drink responsibly but that ain't no good excuse. I drive after drinking and that makes me one very socially irresponsible man. Therefore, I am reconsidering. You?

Good Night 

 

Diamond Ring from a Facebook Friend?

This is a story about how some Bhutanese were defrauded on Facebook. Similar fraud made news once during the email days, where people were declared winner of million dollar lottery and asked to pay few thousand dollars to claim their prizes. Some seemed to have silently dreamt of million dollars and blindly jumped into the traps. That news should have be enough to caution us against any similar promises we receive over the internet. But some sort to learn the lesson the hard way.

Facebook is now a world of its own. People make career out of being on Facebook and some are professional frauds. That's their full time job. They write to thousands of people across the world with perhaps thousands of accounts. The old trick comes in new bottle. I have received hundreds of messages from beautiful girls, of course they are using fake identities, claiming to like my profile and seek my friendship. But interesting they ask us to write to them in their email addresses and not Facebook, which is when you have to know they is something fishy. When you don't reply them for over a day, you will notice that the account is deactivated and message gone.

Few months ago, a lady friend who was having a difficult life as single mother joyfully shared about her new found friend from the US. She told my wife that the man was sending her an iPad and iPhone. They have also planned to meet in Bhutan later this year. We were so happy for her. Her man was a captain on some ship and has sent her his picture too. He was a bit older but she was happy about that. They were even calling each other on the phone.

One day she called my wife to ask if we could help her get her parcel form Bangkok because seemingly her parcel was stranded in Bangkok for some reason. She has the postal number for the parcel. We told her that it's just matter of time. Then one day she was looking for money and she disclosed to my wife that she had to send $1000 to claim her parcel. Her man was on the ship and he was helpless. That's when I knew it was a fraud. I told her through my wife, to tell him she can wait until he reaches a seaport to clear the parcel from Bangkok. He told her that if she waits the parcel could be lost. Then we played smart and told him that we will send our relative in Bangkok to collect the parcel. Next moment his Facebook account was deactivated and his number was switched off. We could rescue her. Though we shattered her dream.

Not even a month passed when when my wife heard another woman excitedly talking about some parcel arriving and stranded somewhere. She was someone we knew closely and my wife told her our friend's story, only to discover that she went through almost the same script. She later confided to my wife that she already sent Nu.40,000 and because there was a diamond ring in the parcel she was asked to send Nu.100,000 more. She was almost ready with the cash when my wife rescued her.

Another friend my wife rescued was an old friend in Paro who was receiving generous help from a man overseas in getting the US visa. We were in Paro to drop our son when she invited us over to her place. She had lots of business plans before but we found out that she has dropped all the idea because she was readying to fly to America. We told her not to send any money before receiving the visa if he really means his help, and if he is a fraud he will cut all contacts with you. That happened.

These are the stories of three ladies that I knew of, and I can guess that there could be lots of male victims looking at the number of messages I am receiving from frauds posing as girls. Just that man won't admit it easily.

There could be hundreds of such stories hidden under heavy debts and humiliation, if only they could come out and tell their stories the next hundred could be saved. Bhutan is increasingly chasing American dream and many people silently and blindly go to any extend. We must warn people around us, especially those that are not very familiar about social media. I have highlighted the key words that frauds have used with those three ladies, let innocent people around you take note of them. Let them know that there is nobody so kind out there who would send them anything just by being a Facebook friend- Not diamond ring at least. It's common sense.
 

Being the Change, Beyond Complaining

I spent my summer vacation well. I attending workshop by the day and met friends in the evenings. I made some new friends and caught up with old friends. I interviewed a several people and several people interviewed me. I met with some people with whom I have always wanted to meet. I am soon blogging about them.
Animated Introduction. Picture: BCMD
I know you don't like reading about workshops, neither do I but this workshop was different. This workshop was not about some far-fetched theories and endless handout that would go to dustbin on the way back home. It was neither one of those namesake workshops to finish certain budget. It was about awakening, about realizing our power to change things, small things around us. We spent five days inspiring ourselves and the next five days going out into the real world to make real changes.

The workshop was called Community Mapping, technically it was about locating issues and asserts in the community and getting it literally on the map. We were carrying Android phones loaded with unicef GIS mapping app. The app helps in pinning the pictures we take onto the map using Global Positioning System. But that's just the tool, the soul was how we go beyond clicking pictures and identifying problems, yes it was how we device solutions to the problems.
The unicef Map. Click on the picture to view the real map.
Problem in our country is that most of us don't know a problem is a problem, and the few who could see the problem think it's not their problem. During the workshop we were shown inspiring documentaries from around the world about problems and people- about individuals and community who led changes, who became part of solution, who went beyond just complaining about the problems.

The participants were students from high schools and colleges and I was among the few teachers. The best part of working with young people is that they don't have preconceived doubts and therefore they aren't shy about trying. Soon they make us believe that it's all so possible, and believing is success half achieved.

After five days of inspiration in the BCMD Media Lab we identified issues in Thimphu community to address as our real project. The problems we shortlisted were;

  1. Management of waste party goers leave behind at Buddha Point
  2. Getting City Bus to Changedaphug (Kala Bazar)
  3. Campaigning against taking packaged food as Tshog (Offering) to Lhakhangs
  4. Appointing a community caretaker at a labour camp 
  5. City Bus vegetable vendors on stalls.
(Read about the projects in detail by clicking on the picture of the Map)

Any average citizen would say these are none of our business, but the workshop taught us to more than that, we started believing that every little issues within our community, within our country or the  world is our business. If we can bring a positive change we must do it. So for the next five days we were on the field researching, interviewing, seeking support, connecting people...
My Team with Thimphu Thrompon

On the last day we presented our project outcomes at the Tarayana hall filled with distinguished people who were themselves change makers, policy makers or people who had stake in the development of the city and its community. They all seemed very impressed and the stakeholder promised to render their support.
One striking quote from the presentations, a students said, " We came all the way from the east to put dustbins at Buddha Point". 

Bottom line is, if a streetlight is kept on during the day, some people will not notice at all, some will see and feel nothing, some will know it's waste of energy, some will click a picture and post it on Facebook or Twitter, in this workshop we were inspired to take the next step- to call the authority and inform them directly about it. This is one small change anyone can bring in a community.

During our field trip we saw a big log blocking the drain along the City Bus Parking. The log could clog the drain and during the monsoon it could flood the whole parking. Normally I would have just taken a picture of that log and posted on the Facebook, but this time I gathered my team and tried to take the log out. But it was too big for team of three men. Hundreds of people around the parking area just watched us with that's-not-our-business look. An Indian guy came by and told us that he will call his friends and do it. I was so touched until he asked 'How much is the budget?' So we went to the city office and asked for some labour to help us. There was no labour that day but they asked the location. Next day we went there to find the log was removed. 
Before
After
The workshop was conducted by Bhutan Center for Media and Democracy. I encourage Media Clubs in schools to get in touch with them and book your place for next segment of Community Mapping workshop. It can surely change you into change maker. Special Thanks to Tshering Eudon and Tsho Tsho for being such a great facilitator. 
 

Ninzi Meets Tandin Bidha

Tandin Bidha, one of the most happening Bhutanese actor was in Bajothang last weekend and by mistake I leaked the news to my four year old Bhutanese movie lover. I thought she won't have a clue about who is who in the so many movies she had watched but my god she could describe many scenes from many Tandin Bidha movies. So I sent a request message to the actor's husband, who is my dear friend, and fixed a ladies date.
I was going to take my daughter to meet the actor in the evening because right after school she needs a nap without which she gets very difficult but the excited little girl won't sleep without getting her demand done. With so much of hard work I put her to sleep and she muttered her sleeping wish with her eyes already closed: "I ....want to meet Tandin Bidha"  I gently ok-ed her to sleep.
It was the shortest nap my daughter ever took, and without wasting anytime I followed her instruction. My friend owns a shop in the town, where we had spent hundreds of hours discussing ways to change the world until one day the beauty came by and changed his world and his location too. There in that shop my friend and Tandin Bidha were waiting. It took a while for my little on to open up, and soon she was on Tandin Bidha's lap answering so many questions.
The Ladies
Later I came to know that my friend had summoned his wife the moment I messaged him and by the time I reached there She had already waited a few hours, leaving their own newborn at home. I felt so sorry but greatly thankful for doing this for her little fan. She has been talking about it ever since and every time we pass by their shop she would crane her neck to check inside. She will always cherish that moment, thank you Tandin and Tshering.
 

What's Mongar Court's Message to Schools in Bhutan?

Mongar Court has sent Ministers to jail and therefore a principal is no big deal. The judgement on the Gyalposhing land scam case sent a strong message. I don't know if it was a fair judgement but even if it was not at least everybody took a good message home. But with the principal's case there are several messages coming out. Even if the judgement was the fairest possible, the impact on the society could be unprecedented. The expected message to be taken is that corporal punishment is intolerable in schools, but there are hundreds of principals out there who are affected by the news. They must be hurt, they must be questioning and must be realizing that this could happen to them for just doing their duty.

By duty I am not saying that lashing students is their duty, their duty is to run the school well. Running the school means dealing with hundreds of young children, some of whom doesn't have sense of direction. The easiest thing to do would be to let it be. Let students do what they like, don't play parents, don't play police, don't play counselor, don't play judge and jury, don't just give a damn. Just go to the class and teach the curriculum. If there is an accident call the ambulance, if there is a fight call the police, if someone does drugs send them to jail, if there is a relationship among students call their parents and let them get married. But then school is more than that, every school has the moral duty to give every child a meaningful life.

They deserve to learn through mistakes, they deserve to stand corrected. No school will go lashing every troublesome child, but sometimes some children really need serious dealing because otherwise they are going to shatter their own dreams. Dealing with such students is no principal's favorite event. Every morning several students have to be summoned to the principal's office with different cases ranging from quarreling, stealing, fighting, smoking, drinking, doping, gang fighting... some students have their files filled with 'last warnings'
Some students ask for suspension because they want to skip school and have fun, and some even don't mind being terminated. A good principal's job is to make sure that these children don't leave school. The tempting world outside the school seems to care a lot but when these children are on their own they will realize that nobody cares about them, sometimes no even their own parents. We in the school know so much about the real world out of school and there we don't want our children to go unprepared.

I'm against corporal punishment and I'm more against mental punishment. We have dealt with children who would ask for any punishment except calling their parents. They say they will be thrown out of the house and removed from the census. When students are caught in gang fight and drug cases they beg the school to punish them any way the school likes but not to send them to the police. But we consider ourselves very wise and try the western style, we are expected to deal with them in a civilized behavior- yes we are expected to send them to jail! But we don't, we punish them, we watch them, we see them become better with few lashes. If they were sent to jail they would have never seen this life they are now living.
Principal in Jail
Mongar principal could have easily called the parents of the junior students and ask them to file a report with the police and arrest the senior for bullying and harassment. This could have saved so much of school's time and could have easily spared himself from all the problem. But the school took the responsibility to deal with the case, advice the boy and asked him to apologize. The boy took it lightly and went on to bully the junior further. The principal wired the boy and perhaps the boy may learn to fear the school rules now but the parents took the principal to the court and they won the case. Clap, clap, clap, their boy has leaned a good lesson in life, that his parents will watch his back at all times and he could go on misbehaving.

Thousands of young students across the country have heard the news that even a principal could be jailed for beating students. They must be feeling excited about it. These experimental young minds are made little fearless. And thousands of teachers must be reconsidering their roles as teachers, as caring teachers. Not to mention the hundreds of principals. If hundreds of students begin to revolt against school and take the principals and teachers to court hence I won't be surprised, I would thank Mongar court. Whatever is legally right need not necessarily be morally right.

By this I am not saying beating up students in any way is right, not all teachers and principals are as caring and good, some have cases of sexual molestation and some could be naturally violent against students for no good reason, some might thrash young children like their enemies; in such cases justice should prevail.

But we cannot go all american overnight to sue every little whip in the school just because there is a law against it. Some parents have natural court-going tendency and teachers are easy prey. We need protection too, we need legal wing in the ministry to protect us. Our job is getting more sensitive by the day and the more seriously we engage in our duties, the more vulnerable we become. We love our students, we care for them. Even in a family with two children parents resort to beating sometimes, we are family of hundreds of children.
 

ECB still considers me as one of their own...

I was the Social Media Monitor during the last election and I can still feel the redness in my sleepless eyes but ok I am happy that I could contribute so much. I thought I was done after I was called to do a final presentation last spring, but looks like ECB still considers me as one of their own. I am very happy to be useful yet again. So, here I am with a survey that could help in understanding the relationship and factors that affect voter's choice and participation of women in election. Similar survey is underway physically in every Dzongkhag and here I am reaching out to people on social media.
Please spare me 5 mins of your time in filling out the following survey. If you have already done that via the Facebook link you need not do it. Thank you in advance. (Use the scroll bar on the righthand side of the form to access the whole form, Submit button is at the end of the form.)
 

My Ninzi's First Progress Report

My daughter will always cherish Kids R’ Kids Day Care center as her first school as much as Kezang and I acknowledge, where she was enrolled since last year. She spent the first year in play group, just playing the whole time. It was there that she learned to make friends. She knew every friend by their names. She held high regards for her teachers, following their every word religiously.
Ninzi in Action
Beginning this year she began real schooling, beginning with Alphabets. We literally know everything that’s going on in her classroom because she would relive whole her day at home in the evening, word by word. We have never expected her to be so excited about her studies that she will keep us sleepless with her questions day in day out. She would complain about her being behind most of her senior friends and strive to catch up with them. Even in her sleep she will be practicing spellings of certain new words she learned in school.
While I always remained amazed at the pace of her learning and amount of things she was picking up I thought everything was random until we received her file on the last day of the first term.
Progress Report
It was a huge file containing every little thing she has done in the school with a progress report attached in the front. Flipping through the pages I could visualize how my little daughter spent her time in the school, day after day, lines and dots, word by word and I was so touched by the way the school has put everything together. This gave me a greater reason to cherish my daughter first school.
What my girl was learning, the words she was practicing, the objects she was drawing, the endless questions she asked weren't just random things, they were part of a a highly organized and progressive learning. The progress report states that my little one can:
  1. Recognize 26 Alphabets  and their sounds
  2. Write simple words and speak them
  3. Speak out number 1-10 (Of course she can dial my number already)
  4. Match number with quantities
  5. Recognize national symbols 
  6. Recognize body parts
  7. Recognize vegetables and Fruits 
Her Drawings
And beyond what is reflected in there she can recognize shapes and colors flawlessly. She can reproduce simple drawings. She can speak out Days of the week... and this makes her greater than her father has ever been at her age. In fact, I had been trying to make sense of all these when I was in grade II. My girl is yet to go to formal primary school and I am already a thoroughly proud father. Thanks you Kids R' Kids and the teachers there.
Body Parts
Vegetables



 

Dreams Come True at M-Studio

M-Studio is a place where musical talent finds its home. I have witnessed the studio give purpose to lives of many young people, to whom music mean everything. I could hardly imagine what would have happened to so many dreams if M-Studio hadn't come along. Thank you Choeying Jatsho, for dreaming a dream that would drive so many dreams.
One day, few years ago I wrote to M-Studio asking them to do the nation a favour of recording country’s first audio book. I got a reply expressing their interest but they were in the midst of musical revolution and had so many things going on. Then it was some months ago I wrote to them about Sonam Chuki and our plan to record Kuenzang Choden’s masterpiece “Dawa-The Story of a Stray Dog in Bhutan”.
Sonam Chuki at M-Studio
Sonam Chuki is just another eleven year old who has but read a lot. There are many like her and many better than her in reading, but what makes her special is how she kept pushing me ever since the first time we talked about it. She must be the only class VII kid who has read “Dawa-The Story of a Stray Dog in Bhutan” countless times in preparation for recording. She made me believe that we could do it. And what made it more possible is the powerful energy we received from her parents. Her parents are with her every day at the studio and they didn't hesitate once in letting her do this. And thanks to them for all the books they have always gift their daughter.
We are so indebted to the living legend, the author of the book, Kuenzang Choden for not just permitting us to record her book but also offering to help us if we ever need her assistance. I am hoping to arrange Sonam Chuki to meet the author and launch the audio book.
I could never imagine how tedious it is to record hundred over pages with a little girl, but Choeying Jatsho has all it takes to make it easy. The first trial recording of chapter 1 took 25 minutes, and I was already feeling very sorry because there were 13 chapters, but to my amazement Choeying did the first chapter three times. He gave the little girl all the time to make her comfortable with the whole process. Two days on and he has done seven chapters. There are over a hundred of sentences repeated and I have seen him note down the time periods of every mistakes, which means he has to work endlessly on it after we are done with the recording.
Sitting there in his studio and watching this young man do his work so passionately inspired me beyond words. My respect and admiration for M-Studio has grown greater than ever. I still can’t believe Choeying is doing this for Chuki and me unconditionally. I am so guilty of making a young entrepreneur do so much amount of work for free. I can never thank the man enough.
One day when his work reaches to thousands of students across the country, some of whom will be visually impaired, then we shall know the true essence of Choeying’s service. 
Stars Born in M-Studio

 

There Are 100 Bars and No Bookstore in Bajothang

It's sad but the hard reality of doing business gave birth to about 100 bars offering 100 different ways to get drunk in Bajothang and not a single bookstore to offer a single book. Bajothang is not alone I am sure. Ironically we still expect our children to behave well and grow into good human beings. In the society where every other building has a bar and every other adult is drinking, what else can we expect from our children?
An African  proverb is a good reminder: "It takes a whole village to raise a child." And Bajothang is not a place that can raise a child, it can only spoil.


I have often wanted to start a bookstore here but all these years I was barely surviving. I haven't cleared my car loan after four long years. I couldn't hurt my own kitchen for a neighborhood dream because running a bookstore is not a smart business. To dare that dream was to become a guilty family man.

Having been a helpless eyewitness to too many social problem in the school and beyond, and having been a sad observer of worsening academic standards in our students it has increasingly dawn on me that the only total solution to all these problem could be in the magic of reading. Reading does magic to language and opens the floodgate of wisdom. It discovers the goodness of human soul and transform the total outlook on life. I have known many good readers to believe in it. I have known some brilliant kids who are not only academically admirable but also such nice souls to be around with. Their secret to excellence is their love for reading. It's so possible and I don't know why we are not so passionate about making reading a social pride. Everybody wants their child to be extraordinary, it's possible, make them read. 

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay believes in this and decided to make reading a national priority. If his idea of Reading Year (2015) is received warmly by the stakeholders Bhutan will never be the same again in few year. We will have the best generation of Bhutanese ever. I wish his excellency could take one more step and give Tax Holiday to all the bookstores because doing that business is an endless sacrifice.

Personally it as been a very book year for me. I have received numerous book gifts from various writers. It's a sign that I must understand. It's a sign to dream again, to champion the spirit of reading. One family friend personally came all the way to my place to gift me two cartoons of their finest collection. What they said then will always go with me: It's almost sin to let books collect dust on the shelf after they are read. The books they gave me will go a long way.

I have always been a moving bookstore in Bajothang. It began in 2009 when I helped a friend sell Bhutan Now Magazine. Then I sold three issues of Yeewong Magazine and later I established lifelong relationship with Students' Digest Magazine, from their third issue till now. Soon I was selling Bhutanese Novels like Dear Seday, Then I Saw Her Face, The Night Hunters. Let me blog my trumpet by saying that I have sold more copies of those books than any bookstore in Thimphu. Selling 300 copies of single issue of a magazine in few days is a serious matter in Bhutan.

I wish to celebrate Reading Year by putting together all my gut into opening the first bookstore in Bajothang. If there are 100 ways to get drunk, let me give them one way to remain sober. It will be a huge sacrifice and I don't know how I will do it. As I type this article my friend Dawa Knight and I have already visualized a vague but brave plan to get it started-something like Book Cafe. I will need long tax holiday, book donations from individuals and established businesses, and Dawa's living room,because he has decided to remain single for some more years, to being with.
Something like this
 

Books on Democracy in Bhutan

Million things have happened in the first five years of democracy in our country. We were all eyewitness to those events that defined the birth and infancy of democracy in Bhutan. There were events that excited us, headlines that shocked the nation, political dramas that angered sections of society, decisions that changed our lives, and moments that changed Bhutan.

Those decisions, those promises, the headlines, the emotions, the drama and everything that happened in those five years are but surprisingly history now, to be forgotten with each passing day. No matter how strongly we felt about somethings or how somethings impacted our lives we have moved on. But if democracy has to flourish we must not forget what happened in the first five years, it was the priceless lesson we cannot afford to lose.

Gyambo Sithey, the same author who documented the 2008 election in his book "Drukyul Decides-In the minds of Bhutan's first voters", has done us yet another great favour of recording remarkable events from the first five years of democracy in Bhutan in his second book "Democracy in Bhutan-The First Five Years 2008-13". The book with its excellent print quality and design is a complete history of the founding years with nostalgic collection of pictures.

The Democracy in Bhutan
On one hand I wonder what was there to make up a staggering eleven chapters but by the time I turn the last of 200 pages I couldn't imagine how the author could possibly sum up five years and million things in eleven chapters. The eleven chapters will take you back in time and let you feel the impacts yet again, sometimes taking you into the depth of some matters that we had just let go with a smile.Undoubtedly the foremost writer on democracy in Bhutan, Gyambo Sithey has picked on stories that have mattered the most and that should be remembered for times to come.

What he will write next is not so hard to guess but looking at how many things have happened under the new government within the first year I wonder how many chapters he will have to write. But I bet he must have finished the first chapter already and the title may be: "100 Days Pledges".
Gyambo Sithey's First Book: Drukyul Decides
I have been lucky to receive both the books from the author himself, signed. And the author signed two more copies for my school. But I didn't want these two books to be hidden among thousand other books in the school library, I wanted them to be seen and read, to educate young voters in my school. Therefore I gifted the books to School Democracy Club, the ECB initiated group that is responsible for educating the school on democracy. To them the books are no less than encyclopedia.
Democracy Club posing with Gembo Sithey's Books. Thank you!


I would like to suggest every Democracy Club in the schools to own these two books as assert and perhaps ECB could make this possible.

 

To Rinchengang, Without Me

Last Weekend my club planned to tour Rinchengang to collect artifacts for our school museum. Our success and adventure in Matalungchu inspired us. But I had to fail them because our teachers were set to go on a gaming tour to Phobjikha. That was another big thing happening for the first time and I didn't want to be a disappointment. Teachers from four high schools in Wandgue were coming there for sports and this is going to happen four times in a year, each time in different school. This was big teachers' time.

However, for the sake of this teachers' time I wasn't going to put a halt to my bigger dream and not at all try to hold back the overflowing energy of my students for whom Saturday was all packed and ready. They came with lunchboxes and extra bottles of water, with umbrella in case it rained or shined too much.

The school bus was ready with the team on it and I was the missing piece. Surprise! I had brought in two ex students to replace me and take care of the team on the tour. Madav was our ex-school captain and has all the leadership quality it takes. He is around waiting for college reporting day. Yeshey Jimba is another very exemplary student who is waiting to resit for XII examination. He has his little sister in my club and her stories got him interested in our project, so that makes one solid team.

Before I reached Phobjikha I got a call from Madav about the success of the tour. Though half the village was out in the fields they managed to collect 32 amazing artifacts along with many offers of tea. And last Wednesday during the club hour they proudly presented their collection to me and I saluted them! And Special thank you to Madav and Yeshi Jimba. Come to visit the 'finished' museum during your college vacations.
The team with their 32 treasures
Talking about ex students, today fourteen of our class XII graduates visited us and gave us 'thank you' tea party. In few weeks all of them will be joining colleges and making us proud. I took them aside, click this picture and told them how impressed I was with what they did. The sweetness of the tea didn't matter, we felt so good that they came to visit us before they venture onto life's bigger journey. God is with you. All the best.
The 14 who came to say thank you
 

Guest on Namgay Zam's 'Let's Talk About It'

Good news to all Namgay Zam fans is that she is back but this time on Thimphu's popular radio- Radio Valley. She is doing a show- 'Let's Talk About It'. I was honoured to be her first guest. She thought my last blog needed more attention: Say No to Sex on Camera. Thank you Namgay.

I am sure many of you missed the show, so here it is.

 
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